Northern Ireland’s Department for Economy has confirmed a £1m (USD$1.37m) conference support scheme to help secure more business events in Belfast, Derry and the region.
The scheme will provide conference organisers with £50 for each out-of-state delegate to bring their association conference to the region, with awards ranging between £5,000 and £100,000 for all eligible events.
Open to not-for-profit associations and organisations, bringing at least 100 out-of-state delegates, applications for conferences taking place from 2022-2030 are now open.
The scheme is funded by Tourism Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council and Derry and Strabane District Council and delivered by Visit Belfast and Visit Derry.
The Northern Ireland Executive gave the go-ahead for conferences and exhibitions to resume on 16 August. “In 2019, conferences in Northern Ireland delivered £27.5m to the local economy and brought a wide range of benefits including jobs, inward investment and knowledge exchange,” Northern Ireland economy minister Gordon Lyons said.
“Northern Ireland had captured the attention of the global travel industry with awards from Lonely Planet to National Geographic, and, following The Open in Portrush, the global conference and events industry was poised to invest.
“This scheme will provide much-needed support for the conference and events sector as it contributes to rebuilding the tourism economy and we very much look forward to welcoming conference delegates back to our vibrant towns and cities.”
Eimear Callaghan, business solutions manager at Tourism NI, said she was delighted to see the return of conferences in Northern Ireland, which continues to be recognised as a compelling destination for business events.
“This scheme will be a critical tool in helping to support event organisers plan and deliver in-person conferences within Northern Ireland and support recovery as we open for business. Conferences and meetings are crucially important for Northern Ireland, and we look forward to welcoming back delegates to experience all that the region has to offer.”
Belfast has been building a long pipeline of business events, with more than 103 significant conferences scheduled through to 2028 which are worth over £81m to the economy, including the European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies, the Association of Anaesthetics Annual Conference and the One Young World Summit in 2023.
“Visit Belfast, together with our venues, hotels and event suppliers have transformed what we do to meet the new demands of business events. We have invested in hybrid, accelerated our work on sustainability and remain committed to working with our association clients to not only deliver safe, sustainable events, but to deliver a long-term positive impact and legacy,” Rachael McGuickin, Visit Belfast’s director of business development, added.
ICC Belfast chief executive, Julia Corkey, said: “In order to win and deliver large-scale, multi-day conferences and exhibitions, our team works as a trusted advisor to clients, inheriting their KPIs as our own. Client requirements have evolved rapidly over the past 18 months and we have made significant investment in our technological offering to become hybrid-by-design.
“Now that we can safely welcome delegates back to our COVID-Secure venue, this scheme will further enhance our compelling offering and position Belfast and Northern Ireland as a European leading destination for business events.”
Visit Derry chief executive Odhran Dunne said: “In 2019, Derry hosted its largest ever conference and the revised Conference Support Scheme will provide a clear and compelling reason to choose the city and build on that legacy. The scheme will stimulate demand in the business events sector as we look forward to welcoming both national and international delegates to our historic Walled City in the years ahead.”